Inside the world of Gaddafi's son Saadi

A suitcase stuffed with banknotes, luxury hotels and The Pussycat Dolls

GLENDA KWEK
Last updated 15:44 07/03/2011
Saadi Gaddafi
Getty Images
FORTUNATE SON: Saadi Gaddafi's former girlfriend had revealed how he enjoys the high life.

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A former nightclub dancer says she had a six-year relationship with one of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's sons, who kept a "suitcase stuffed with thousands of banknotes" and splurged £170 million  a year on a luxury lifestyle.

Bulgarian Dafinka Mircheva said she met Saadi Gaddafi, the third son of the Libyan leader, when she was 21 at a Parisian nightclub in 2004, the Sunday Mail reported.

Gaddafi, now 37, took an instant liking to the young dancer as she performed on stage and asked her to "go with him to the Caribbean the next day on his jet".

Mircheva said she refused, and Gaddafi flew to Paris every few weeks to try to pick her up, staying in expensive hotels in rooms costing £3500 a night. He lavished her with gifts, spending £20,000 on Bulgari jewellery.

During that time, Gaddafi was a professional player in Italy's Serie A football league with the clubs Sampdoria, Udinese, Perugia, although he rarely played on the field.

Off the field, Gaddafi, a trained engineer and soldier, had more than six people travelling with him, include his own manservant Langy, Mircheva said. Wherever he went, "money was no object".

"He would always have a black suitcase stuffed with thousands of banknotes. If he ran out, he would call the embassy and they would have more delivered to his hotel, " she told the Mail.

"His entourage were mainly Libyans. He would call them all his servants. I told him many times not to tell people that. He told me: 'I do what I want. I want to call them servants.'

"Sometimes he would slap them. He was quite good with me but with others he didn't care. Once, he found a beggar in the centre of Paris and took him back to his hotel to entertain him.

"He would always have the biggest suite and pay for rooms for his servants. He would get very drunk and play loud music in the middle of the night. The rapper 50 Cent was his favourite.

"He would insist on being called Engineer Saadi. His brother would always be Doctor Mutassim.

"Another time, I went to his room at Plaza Athenee and found him sleeping in bed with another man. They were under the covers and their top halves were naked. I also saw him take drugs but only once. It was in the private room of a club and he offered me cocaine."

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Mircheva said she agreed to date Gaddafi a year after the pair first meant, and Gaddafi continued to splash out on luxury gifts, including a £25,000 Audemars Piguet watch, £25,000 in designer dresses and £10,000 just for dinner at a Russian restaurant in Paris.

On his birthday in 2007, he hired The Pussycat Dolls, whom Mircheva said was her favourite pop group, to perform at a villa in Cannes in front of 30 guests.

"Saadi will never look at the price. He doesn't care. Someone else always pays the bill."

But Mircheva said she refused to sleep with Gaddafi as "I knew he would sleep with lots of women ... it drove him mad [that I didn't sleep with him]".

Instead, in 2006, she said she asked him to free six Bulgarian nurses who had been arrested by Libyan authorities in 1999 for allegedly infecting children with HIV.

"Eventually he told me they would be freed during 2007, which they were. To this day I don't know if they were released because of me or if they were going to be released anyway."

US diplomatic cables written by US Ambassador Gene Cretz in Tripoli in 2009 and released by WikiLeaks described Gaddafi as a "black sheep made good" as he tried to set up an export free zone in western Libya.

"Saadi has a troubled past, including scuffles with police in Europe (especially Italy), abuse of drugs and alcohol, excessive partying, travel abroad in contravention of his father's wishes.

"Creating the appearance of useful employment for al-[Gaddafi]'s offspring has been an important objective for the regime."

Gaddafi, along with his older brother Saif, is believed to have visited Sydney, Perth and Queensland over the past nine years and inspected property, although they are not believed to have bought any. He has also travelled to Australia with the Libyan football team, and was friends with former Socceroo Zeljko Kalac.

In the weeks before Libyan rebels took over the eastern city of Benghazi, Gaddafi said on local radio that he was commandant of the city.

He later appeared at a pro-Gaddafi rally in the capital Tripoli to show that he had not been killed by the Benghazi protesters.

Last week, Gaddafi told the Financial Times he and Saif were working on a new constitution for Libya and that their father "would stay as the big father who advises".

"Yes, there are people protesting against my father's rule. It is normal. Everybody needs to be free to express their opinion," he said in the telephone interview.

"After this positive earthquake, we have to do something for Libya. We have to bring in new blood to govern our country."

He added: "The army is still very strong. If we hear anything, we will send some battalions. When people see the army, they will be afraid."

The Gaddafi family

SAIF AL-ISLAM

Educated at the London School of Economics, he has become the main spokesman for his father's administration since protesters took over the east of the country and rioted in the capital. In a speech on state television, Saif al-Islam said if protests did not stop "instead of mourning 84 (people killed), we will be mourning hundreds of thousands."

Before, Saif al-Islam had been seen by many Western governments as the acceptable public face of his father's rule. He played a central role in negotiating the lifting of U.S. and European sanctions on Libya in 2004. Mainly through his charitable Gaddafi Foundation, he has pushed for reform in Libya, including more media freedom, acknowledgement of past rights abuses and the adoption of a constitution. Some Libya-watchers say he was a possible successor to his father. He oversaw a reconciliation with Islamist rebels who fought an insurgency in the 1990s. But his efforts at reform were stymied by opposition from inside the ruling elite, and, some analysts say, from members of his own family. In the past few months the independent newspaper he helped to found was forced to mute its criticism of the authorities and his foundation withdrew from political activities.

British think-tank the Quilliam Foundation said the events of the past few days showed Saif al-Islam had changed his priorities.

"Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the heir apparent to Colonel Gaddafi ... no longer aspires to lead a reformist wing within the government but has instead sided with the hardliners," it said in a report.

MUTASSIM

Libya's national security advisor. Many people who study Libya believe he belongs to a conservative camp - rooted in the military and security forces - which resisted Saif al-Islam's attempts at reform.

He has a much lower public profile than his brother. He came to international prominence in April 2009 when he had a meeting in Washington with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Like many in Gaddafi's entourage, his political fortunes fluctuate according to whether he is in his father's favour. After a long absence, he began travelling with his father on trips to African capitals a few months ago, a change which coincided with the start of an anti-reform drive in Tripoli.

"Muatassim .... plays a key role as his father's confidant and handler during travel abroad," said a confidential cable from the US embassy in Tripoli.

"Muatassim also seems to have been tasked with ensuring that the Leader's image is well-preserved through the full array of carefully-planned media events."

SAADI GADDAFI

He had a brief career as a professional player in Italy's Serie A soccer league between 2003 and 2007, though he had little time on the field. He had stints with Sampdoria, Udinese, Perugia and had business dealing with Juventus, a club in which one of Libya's sovereign wealth funds owned a stake. He also played for the Libyan national team. Libya's former Italian coach, Francesco Scoglio, was quoted by Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport as saying he was fired for not picking Saadi Gaddafi to play.

Saadi, who qualified as an engineer and also holds military rank, later turned to business. He told Reuters in an interview last year he was behind a project to set up a free trade zone on the Mediterranean coast west of Tripoli.

When violence engulfed Libya's eastern city of Benghazi last week, Saadi spoke on local radio to say he had been appointed commandant of the city. Soon after, residents took control of Benghazi and forced out security forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

Saadi then turned up at a pro-government rally in Tripoli's Green Square, an apparently stage-managed appearance to debunk rumours he had been killed by protesters in Benghazi.

KHAMIS

Khamis is closely associated with the conservative old guard. His background is with the military and he holds a senior rank. Residents of Benghazi say a battalion commanded by Khamis and including mercenary fighters was behind some of the worst violence in that city and the town of Al Bayda, about 200 km (124 miles) further east. There has been no official confirmation that Khamis has been in the region.

HANNIBAL

An incident involving Hannibal Gaddafi in a hotel in Geneva caused a diplomatic row with Switzerland that at one point also dragged in the United States and the European Union.

On July 15, 2008, about 20 police entered the luxury hotel and arrested Hannibal and his pregnant wife Aline Skaf on charges of mistreating two domestic employees. They were released soon after and the charges dropped. Within days, Libya withdrew millions of dollars from Swiss bank accounts and halted oil exports to Switzerland.

Back in Libya, two Swiss expatriate workers Rachid Hamdani and Max Goeldi, were told they were barred from leaving the country. They would not be allowed home until two years later. Libyan officials said their case had nothing to do with Hannibal's arrest. Supporters of the Swiss businessmen said they were innocent victims of a Libyan vendetta against Switzerland.

Since protests began in Libya, Hannibal - who is head of the state shipping company - has kept a low profile. But one incident shed light on his possible whereabouts.

A Lebanese official said a private plane from Libya, with 10 people on board, requested permission to land in Beirut but was refused because the Libyans would not provide a flight manifest. Hannibal's wife, who is Lebanese, is believed to have been among the intended passengers, said the official.

MOHAMMED

Muammar Gaddafi's son from his first marriage, Mohammed Gaddafi goes by the title Doctor Engineer and is president of the Libyan Olympic Committee. He is also head of the General Post and Telecommunication Company, which oversees mobile and fixed line links. When protests began in Libya last week, phone lines became unreliable and some people making regular calls to foreign journalists said they have had their SIM cards blocked.

AISHA

A lawyer by training, Gaddafi's daughter runs a charitable foundation and in 2004 joined a team of lawyers defending former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. She said in an interview last year with British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph: "I would say that now the future of Libya is very promising, bright and optimistic. It is taking its rightful place in the international community and everyone is seeking good ties with us."

-Sydney Morning Herald, with Reuters

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